By Lorna Taylor, Chartered Paediatric Physiotherapist
Back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions account for a quarter of all UK sickness absence, that’s 31 million working days lost (equivalent to a staggering 1000 average lifetimes) every year. The costs to the economy are more than hosting the 2012 Olympics EVERY YEAR.
Perhaps due to the immense economic costs, intervention and prevention tend to focus on adults. However, recent research shows that increasing numbers of children are experiencing back and neck pain. Non-specific spinal pain in children and young people is now a well-established phenomenon and amongst health, education and ergonomics professionals is considered to be on the rise.
72% of primary and 64% of secondary children reported experiencing back pain at school, with the majority of cases unreported.
Children spend approximately 30% of their waking hours in school, mostly in a seated position. There is no regulation to keep posture and comfort in check, despite the numerous benefits to comfort, concentration, health and learning it brings. For every child to reach their full potential, maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives, maybe supporting safe learning, in comfort and limiting long-term physical disabilities needs to be given greater emphasis in schools. The good news is that some simple ideas, which can be easily implemented make a real difference to children’s back health.
10 top tips for healthy back care at school
1. Think “30:30 sit and stretch”. Limit sitting to 30 minutes, stretch and wriggle for 30secs.
2. Limit cross-legged floor sitting to 10 minutes. Encourage movement, side sitting to both sides, straight-legged sitting or cross-legged on a seat wedge cushion.
3. Ensure all children have a clear view of the board without twisting. If not, can they turn their chair around or move position?
4. Report eyesight concerns home if children are excessively hunching over their work or a screen.
5. Never use a laptop flat on a desk, it should be raised up/on a stand so the top of the screen is at eye level, with a separate mouse and keyboard.
6. Encourage all students to learn to touch type so they are not “hunting and pecking” repetitively looking from screen to keyboard.
7. Recommended safe school bag weight is 10% or less of body weight. Encourage students to repack their bag each night so they only carry what they need. Safe storage areas/lockers are a healthy investment.
8. Physical activity is essential for back health, avoid restricting break and PE times. It’s important to promote adequate hydration too.
9. Fidgeting students and those leaning back using “bucket chairs” are most likely uncomfortable, can they stand up, readjust position and sit back down again? Better still, trail and consider ergonomically designed student chairs as an investment to improve health and the learning environment.
10. Key “back healthy” features of ergonomically designed student chairs are: lower back support, seat shape to encourage knees level or lower than helps and adequate circulation, lightweight (if lifting and carrying), non-tip back legs and backrest ventilation to ensure optimum body working temperature.
Further information and free resources for schools:
Hints and tips for choosing a using a school bag (pdf) (update)